Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s antics in Geneva on Monday were exactly what was implied by his clown-bewigged protestors: a sideshow. The real important development from the Durban Review Conference occurred yesterday, when countries approved, with no alterations, the text of the anti-racism resolution that had been worked out in the weeks beforehand. No one will confuse this document — whose creation was led by Western countries that still remained in conference negotiations and includes not a single mention of Israel — for an Ahmadinejad rant, but I already worry that memories of the conference will play right into the Iranian leader’s hands and focus on his distractions over the conference’s substantive output.
It’s also worth noting that the 2001 Durban anti-racism conference — inaccurately derided on the right for doing nothing but criticize Israel — took the whole week alotted to it to arrive at a consensus document. Its successor avoided the problems and protracted debate — some of which, yes, was caused by some participants’ inordinate focus on Israel — that marred the Durban conference by, it seems, learning its lessons.
Particularly when you’re the head of the world’s nuclear watchdog group, and you’re addressing the country with the greatest leverage over an off-and-on nuclear “rogue” state. Speaking in Beijing, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei sounded the right message on Iran and North Korea:
“There is no other solution apart from dialogue,” ElBaradei said at a conference on nuclear energy in Beijing. “The only way to resolve these issues is not through flexing muscles … but to try to engage the root causes.”
ElBaradei, whose spats with the Bush Administration are well documented, is clearly pleased with the shift toward engagement with Iran occuring in Washington. Now, though, the onus is on Tehran; ElBaradei rightly emphasized that, if Iran too is serious about negotiations, it will have to “reciprocate” the U.S. opening. Opponents will assume that ElBaradei is simply talking soft when it comes to Iran, but this misses the point; it was the Bush Administration’s confrontational stance toward Iran that messed up the IAEA’s nonproliferation efforts, not the other way around (though I suppose if the IAEA had been able to continue its work in say, Iraq, it would indeed have dampened enthusiasm for U.S. hawkishness).
When it comes to China and North Korea, though, “dialogue” has to mean something different. Talk of the U.S.-Iran opening abounds in the media; the issue is, one can conclude without much cynicism, also a domestic political one for both sides. China and North Korea, on the other hand, will have to engage much more quietly, and behind the scenes. Neither wants to let on any rupture in their alliance, so it is all the more important that Beijing talk — but talk tough — to Pyongyang. Let’s hope ElBaradei pressed this on the Chinese once the cameras were off.
As for the alleged “freedom-hating” speech by Jackie Chan in China the other day, I’m going to have agree with Josh from FP that Chan was making a clever use of sarcastic doublespeak when addressing his Chinese hosts. After all, this is a guy who, as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, channeled his martial arts prowess toward the goal of peace in East Timor.
I’m only just getting around to objecting to Thomas Friedman’s column yesterday. Its title is “In the Age of Pirates,” but he makes the same regrettable conflation of pirates and varied other “non-state actors” and “failed states” that results in the endless list of “baddies” cited in the “Linked Up” piece below. The conclusion that Friedman draws from this oversimplification of foreign policy challenges is, unsurprisingly, oversimplified: “‘Mama, don’t let your children grow up to be diplomats,’ he cautions, for “[t]his is not the great age of diplomacy.”
But this is increasingly an age of pirates, failed states, nonstate actors and nation-building – the stuff of snipers, drones and generals, not diplomats.
Strangely, though, Friedman’s actual solutions are more nuanced than this cheesy formulation would suggest. He stresses the need to build the responsive state institutions — “the pulleys and wheels,” he calls them — that would help “failed states” better control their countries’ interactions with the rest of the world. And an easy conclusion to draw from his call for “much more effective leverage” on recalcitrant regimes is that it will take concerted efforts from a unified international community to make a difference in altering these countries’ destructively antagonistic foreign policy calculus.
Besides increased international investment and engagement (building “pulleys and wheels” is at least metaphorically, and possibly literally, part of UNDP’s job description in Afghanistan, for example) what do these two approaches have in common? Neither of them can be effectuated through “snipers, drones, [or] generals.” These military options — contrary to the sweeping lessons being trumpeted by many over the dramatic, bullet-driven piracy rescue the other week — are almost inevitably ad hoc and unsustainable, a la the whack-a-mole theory of terrorist eradication. Diplomacy, on the other hand, will be an integral part of whatever slant our long-term strategy adopts.
Different kinds of threats may require different kinds of diplomats, but with Cold War military standoffishness fading ever further into the background, this is exactly why we need more, not fewer, of Mama’s boys and girls signing up for the Foreign Service.
(image from flickr user Charles Haynes under a Creative Commons license)
Even with nuclear inspectors kicked out of the country, it seems to foolish to contend, as Weekly Standard contributor Joseph Loconte did recently, epitomizing a bizarre assumption of many hawks, that North Korea has “the upper hand” in its relations with the world. This is a country “Hermit Kingdom” that has completely shut itself in from outside contact; that, as Loconte rightly notes, is willing to literally “starve its own people in order to feed its nuclear ambitions;” and whose propaganda is so absurd that it claims that a missile that sunk to the bottom of the Pacific is currently beaming revolutionary hymns in from outer space. In this light, kicking out nuclear inspectors and sputtering threats of ending the six-party talks in response to an entirely de rigueur Security Council condemnation are signs not of strength, but of paranoid desperation.
Paranoid desperation should be what we expect out of North Korea, particularly given the confusion of who will take over the country once Kim Jung-Il becomes too ill or dead even to be tackily photo-shopped into pictures. To be sure, the expulsion of UN nuclear inspectors is a setback. But as senior administration officials recognize, this is a “long” game, not a short one. Continuing the six-party talks remains the paramount concern, whose importance all parties, even the Chinese and the North Koreans, recognize is greater than that of a pro forma Security Council statement following the resolution-violating launch. And with China growing increasingly exasperated with its long-time “communist” ally North Korea, Pyongyang doesn’t have much that it can count on.
North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear plant — which persistent diplomacy succeeded in shutting down in in Bush’s second term — could not even be fully re-started for at least six to twelve months. In the meantime, the United States and Japan have put forth the names of companies to be targeted by the Security Council committee responsible for administering sanctions on North Korea. While it’s conventional to depict North Korea’s nuclear breakout as a ticking time bomb scenario, it’s really the country’s own leaders who are running out of time and credible options here.
With the climate so soured against it, any North Korean gambit to resume nuclear production seems designed to offer up bait to American hawks and split the United States off from the other six-party participants. China, not the United States, is the most important actor in this regional drama, and constructive Sino-American diplomacy here will bring far greater benefits than getting caught up in a war of rhetorical (let alone military) escalation with a feeble and desperate regime.
(image from flickr user leef_smith under a Creative Commons license)
Sam Stein listens in on a conference call in which National Security Council Director for Multi-lateral Affairs Samantha Power explains to American Jewish leaders the Obama administration’s hang-ups about participating in the UN anti-Racism Durban Review Conference next week.
The current working text, she said “met two of our four red lines frontally, in the sense that it went no further than reparations and it did drop all references to Israel and all anti-Semitic language. But it continued to reaffirm, in toto, Durban I. And while it did drop specific references to defamation, it continues to include very problematic language on incitement… that are out of line with core U.S. commitments to free speech. So that’s where we have been for a couple weeks, with a text that is dramatically improved… [but] also ratifies the U.S. decision to walk away in the sense that it did seem to spur the other delegations to go back to the drawing board… We have not reengaged in any kind of formal way with this process. Our red lines remain our red lines… In order for us to participate in the negotiations, to sit behind the placard, to be involved in a frontal way, much more would need to be done. And all four of our red lines will need to be met.” [emphasis mine]
This sounds to me like the Obama administration is setting the kind of “preconditions to negotiation” that candidate Obama so eloquently sought to remove from the catalogue of American diplomacy.
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will attend next week’s United Nations conference on racism in Geneva, a U.N. spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
To which I respond: so? This is not really news; did anyone really doubt that the spotlight-loving Ahmadinejad, who wastes his yearly appearances at the UN General Assembly to issue incoherent and digressive rants, would want try to subvert this occasion by bloviating about his favorite anti-Semitic conspiracy theories?
But why let him? By attending the conference, setting down with other countries to get to work, and resolutely ignoring the juvenile distractions on the sidelines, the United States could both marginalize Ahmadinejad and actually help advance the cause of anti-racism. By working together and compromising, it’s worth mentioning, is how countries came together on what even Durban skeptics acknowledge is a vastly improved document to form the basis of the Geneva conference.
If Ahmadinejad wants to show up, let him. If attention’s focused on his diatribes, maybe it will be all the easier to get something productive out of Geneva.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.